By Melonie McLaurin | [email protected]
ROCKINGHAM — One of Rockingham’s best-kept secrets has given local youths confidence, a sense of honor and respect, the ability to overcome obstacles in their lives and the drive to be better every day than they day before — but its aging facilities and growth in popularity have placed it in dire need of a better place to be.
Dungeon Boxing Club, currently located at 204 Ellerbe Road in Rockingham, is fully licensed and sanctioned by the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Boxing as an official training center for a sport people admit hit its prime more than a decade ago. But competitive glory is not what Dungeon Boxing Club is all about. Not entirely, at least.
While people tend to view boxing as a violent and highly competitive sport (and it is), at Dungeon Boxing, the coaches all have high expectations of the athletes in all areas of their lives. If they don’t keep up in school or fail to practice respect for themselves and others, they are not Dungeon Boxing material.
Coach Mario Olivera Jr. began boxing as a child and became an amateur boxer. Years later when his 5-year-old grandson was old enough to start training, Olivera retrieved some of his old equipment from his basement and began working with him to increase his mental focus and discipline.
As word got out, more and more kids from the neighborhood showed up wanting to learn to box, marking Dungeon Boxing’s humble beginnings.
“At the same time, the kids were taught the importance of doing their best in school and staying out of trouble,” Olivera said.
General Manager Raychelle Elder provided a tour of the current facility, full of athletes of all ages training at the various stations throughout the club.
“We have anywhere from 15-35 kids here on a given day,” Elder said. “There are six coaches, and at least three are present at all times. They are all volunteers. You can see that we have the sparring ring here, heavy bags and speed bags, we have a mirror for shadow boxing. We have the medicine balls in various weights. When they first check in each day they weigh themselves, and once more after the workout to see how much water was depleted.”
Young Jyneil Scott was getting his wrists and hands wrapped for the very first time. His mother had brought him here and told him to give it a try. Like any 9-year-old approaching a challenging sport on his first day, Scott admitted to being a little nervous and wasn’t ready to say whether would enjoy the experience or not.
“After this, I’m going to go home, lay in my bed, get a soda, eat some chips and watch TV,” Scott said.
Two days later, Elder confirmed that Scott and boxing training turned out to be a good fit.
“He came back and seemed a lot more relaxed,” Elder said. “And now his sister wants to sign up, too. We haven’t got her paperwork finished yet but she’ll be here. And we had another sign-up who came in yesterday while I was at an appointment. It just keeps growing.”
Elder said that walking into a place like Dungeon Boxing can be intimidating the first time for anyone at any age.
“There’s constant activity,” she said. “These people keep moving from station to station and by the time they’ve completed it, it’s been about an hour. It’s pretty intense. Plus, you’re seeing pretty equal numbers of people of all kinds of races and ethnicities working out at the same time, but they don’t see it that way. This place and everyone you see here are one huge family. I think sometimes we’re more family than family.”
Elder said the kids come in here, many on foot from homes in nearby neighborhoods, knowing that everyone here is a friend and that the coaches are confidants. And when they go back out into the “real world,” they watch out for each other.
Coach Jim Watts said the current building is about 1,700 square feet.
“We’ve grown so much now that we need at least twice as much space,” Watts said.
The club is looking to the community for help in locating a suitable place to move to.
“We want to keep it in Richmond County,” Elder said. “Somewhere between Rockingham and Hamlet. Any move we make is going to change the way some of our kids get here, especially those who walk. So we are keeping that in mind.”
Dungeon Boxing boasts 14 state champions, six Golden Glove champions, three Junior Olympic champions, four Tough Man champions, four regional champions, one Paul Murphy Title champion, the first National Female Silver Gloves champion, three North Carolina Boxers of the Year and one N.C. Coach of the Year.
The coaches say this inspires young athletes to do their best and to push themselves not only in the ring, but in the way they live their lives. The same goes for the club’s older boxers as well.
Grant “Sweet Pea” Steen, a tall and lean adult boxer in his early 20s, is as dedicated as they come, Elder said.
“Sweet Pea is usually the first one here and the last to leave each day,” she said. “And we have at least one pro fighter who works out here. That’s Jeremy Bethea.”
She said the youngest boxer at the club is 5 years old, and the oldest is a preacher in his late 50s.
Olivera said boxing is the best overall workout for total physical fitness.
“They learn physical conditioning, how to defend themselves. I don’t believe there is another sport that will condition you like boxing,” he said.
Olivera is proud of each and every one of the athletes at Dungeon Boxing, and come what may, it’s a place worth having in Richmond County.
“We may never have a world champion-class fighter,” he said. “But what we will have are champions. They will fight to get up and go to school each day. They will be fighting to get up and go to work. Once they get that belt, they are champions. Champions forever.”
Dungeon Boxing Club is open from 4:30-7:30 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays and from noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays for sparring.
If you know of a building that would better suit the needs of Dungeon Boxing Club or simply want to sign up, call 910-434-0016.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.